What This Ad Agency Hopes to Learn by Living With an Ordinary Family for a Week

And how you can join them

David Ogilvy once said, "The customer is not a moron. She's your wife." 

It's easy to say, but how many agencies live by the notion that consumers are people we know and love? Italian agency Le Balene is about to find out whether it meets the bar … and it's looking for someone to join them. 

Creatives in Italy have a similar saying to Ogilvy's. Developed by writer Alberto Arbasino in the '60s, it's become a compass for pitches and brainstorms: "This should be understandable for the Voghera housewife"—Voghera being a small town in Lombardy, and the Voghera housewife being the average person.

Which brings us back to Le Balene, the agency whose execs, last year, walked 125 miles for a pitch. In "The Voghera Housewife," they'll spend a week livestreaming their attempts to work in the home of one such archetype, brought to life in the form of Michela—a wife, mother and cat owner with plenty of clean towels.

Now she can add de facto creative director to her list. Because Michela gets the last word on all proposals.

Wanna join in? They're looking for a manager.

To understand more about Le Balene's latest project, we caught up with CEO Marco Andolfato, who says the idea was partly conceived during their long walk last year. 

"We talked a lot with the different people we met along the route, and we realized how listening to ordinary people is a most valuable source of insights," he tells AdFreak.

"The second inspiration came after a terrible meeting in which we were presented with the result of a copy test: All that talking about 'heavy users' or 'non-users,' dissecting every tiny bit of the idea, sounded more like laboratory test results than a way of understanding what real people think and appreciate." 

That's when it hit them: "Why don't we just go live and work in the home of an ordinary family?" 

He detailed the qualities they're seeking in the manager who'll join them, hopeful that it will be a non-Italian. "We're looking for the ideal manager—curious and willing to take some risk," says Andolfato. "We already have interesting proposals from companies that are not currently our clients. So far, all are from Italy, but we'd love to have someone with a different perspective, coming from a different country and, of course, speaking a different language." 

Andolfato isn't just inviting an international voice into the house to work with them; he's also expecting clients to play along and pitch them there, foregoing impressive conference rooms (and the inevitable foosball table) for the domain of real people. 

"We'll receive the briefs there," he says. "The clients will come to Voghera and ask for the job they want us to perform—a social campaign, a TV spot, anything having to do with communication."

For Andolfato, it's is a taste of the client's own medicine.

"Clients agreed because they see the potential of the idea for their brands," he says, quoting the typical company manifesto: " 'When we think about the communication for our brand, we immerse ourselves in your life, as we do when we design our products or services. That's why you find that our products or services are so good for you.' " 

Michela's family, however, won't be used as a mere focus group. For Le Balene, the goal is to "immerse ourselves in the life of an ordinary family, trying to get as many insights as we can."

Oh, and the project will be livestreamed on Facebook.

"We're planning to go live twice a day, then broadcast a video that sums up what happened during the day," says Andolfato. "Besides our Facebook page, we'll be covered by Youmark, an Italian advertising news website; La Nuvola del Lavoro, a blog hosted by the main Italian newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera; and the Facebook page of FattoreMamma, a network of mom bloggers."

In terms of what's filmed, expect a sympathetic mix of real life—"us and the housewife shopping, a discussion about how to prepare food during lunch, or commenting on a TV program"—and work hijinks—"the briefing meeting with the client in the dining room, creative brainstorming in the kitchen," Andolfato adds. 

"Ideally we would like to convey the message that real communication is for real people and that Le Balene is the right advertising agency for this," he concludes. "This is the final goal, but we're pretty confident that at the end of the week we'll have produced some good work."

He also hopes their creative approach will change for the better. "We'll have to keep our minds very open while there, but this is something we humbly try to do always," he says. 

The team will be moving chez Michela's on Nov. 28. They'll stay from Monday to Friday. Agency residents will include Andolfato as well as the same guys who accompanied him on his walk last year—copywriter Davide Canepa and art director Francesco Guerrera.

And maybe even you, in what may well be the biggest test of agency platitudes since that one time Roundhouse sent a copywriter to live in the wilderness with nothing but client products to keep him alive.

Feeling up to it? Shoot an email to thevogherahousewife@balene.it.

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